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On Origins of Soap, Ashes and Why Essential Oils Don's Clean

A needed post about cleaning - what cleans, what doesn't (or disinfects/kills bacteria, but doesn't clean).
I remember my grandma talked about them using ashes to clean things in childhood (especially during war when normal soap was not available).
For a long time I didn't understand how ashes cleaned exactly (until now, when I decided to learn about origins of soap). Also, what is the difference between disinfection and cleaning? Hint: the ability to wash the stuff off!
OK
Here's what I found:
For the longest time ever, humans washed with just....water. It was semi-effective, since 1) droplets of water carried away some dirt, bacteria and dirt+bacteria trapped is sebum 2) others, it did's (water and oil don't mix well, remember from my earlier posts?)
Around 2800 BC in ancient Babylon people first started using "fats boiled with ashes" - an early brother (sister?) of modern day soap. Ancient Egyptians also used a mixture of alkaline salts and animal/vegetable oils and in the Indian subcontinent, soap nuts have been used (unclear to me for how long) to cleanse.
The soap nuts have saponin inside - a natural surfactant that attaches itself to both oil/sebum and water (and dirt and bacteria are lots of times trapped in oil/sebum), which is then easily washed off.
But ASHES? Let me explain: ashes from burned hardwood are made of mostly potassium carbonate. For thousands of years people seeped soft water (rain water) through white hardwood ashes and collected lye water (which is now sodium hydroxide). It is a highly caustic substance that eats through the fat, saponifying it (that same mechanism of molecules attaching themselves both to oil and to water, therefore readily and easily washed off when cleaning with it). It will do the same with oils anywhere - including our skin's sebum - be very careful if you decide to experiment - wear protective gloves and gear!
Soap has been manufactured by mixing this lye water with oils/fats this way in the Babylon and surrounding areas (which is now the Middle East) and Ancient Egypt, spreading worldwide.
In Europe, the making of soap was popularized by the Roman Empire (in big or small part due to the readily available olive oil). After the fall of Rome in 467 AD, European bathing habits declined in large part due to soap being very expensive and not being produced on commercial scale (that's when we see deadly Middle Ages with plague and other transmitted diseases rampant - lack of simple cleansing with soap!).
Anyway, in later centuries soap production was patented, brought to commercial scale and became super cheap and soap - affordable worldwide. We started to wash off those bacteria and stopped dying en masse from viral disease.
Now, surfactants (what we use in our shampoos and what's used in majority of other cleaning products) have been produced for less than 100 years and use the same technology as soap (ability to wash off the oil from the surface), but are lower in PH (less irritating to skin, better for hair cleansing) and are produced purposefully with different qualities. Some are more cleansing (like SLS, originally used in industrial cleansing, dish washing, etc), some are mild (like our Sodium Cocoyl Isetheonate), some have a specific skin feel and compatibility/incompatibility with other cosmetic ingredients.
Basically, current surfactants is what we have "graduated" to. !Soap is good too! Don't get me wrong. But surfactants have more uses.
Now, antibacterial things (anything from alcohol, antibacterial oils/herbs, to baking soda and other chemicals) are not able to help wash things of -. they are only killing the bacteria (some more than others). Problem is, some types of bacteria very much likes sebum and uses it as their "food" 😦.
But our skin and hair also likes to have some of its protective sebum/oil on it. Looks like cleansing is important, but not overdoing with harshness, right?
WHEW! 😄

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